By Stan "The Fan" Charles
Including games on Aug. 12
1. Washington Nationals (71-44 overall, 6-1 since Aug. 6) -- So much of the talk lately has been about the Stephen Strasburg innings-limit debate that it may have gone unnoticed -- this team is pretty darned good on the days he is not the starting pitcher. In fact, manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty might be wise to use this as motivation for the rest of the starters -- that is, if Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler and maybe John Lannan needed any further motivation.
2. New York Yankees (67-47, 4-3) -- The regular season has seemed like a taffy pull for the roster with the highest payroll in MLB history. The latest setback is CC Sabathia returning to the disabled list with some elbow tenderness. The flip side is the Yankees got a big start from Ivan Nova, who had been MIA of late. The bottom line is they have weathered loads of injuries throughout the season, but if Brian Cashman can't pull off yet another big name starting-pitching acquisition -- how do you like going into the postseason depending on injury-plagued Sabathia and Andy Pettitte?
3. Cincinnati Reds (69-46, 3-4) -- How did the Reds celebrate making it atop the leader board of my power rankings for the first time? They lost all four in Milwaukee. They did come back with a sweep against the toothless Cubs at Wrigley, and the schedule affords them light work at home against the fading Mets and those same Cubbies. On July 16, reigning National League MVP Joey Votto was supposed to miss two weeks with a meniscus tear. That was adjusted to be 3-4 weeks, and now, he's had to go through a scope to remove a piece of floating cartilage. That may keep him out until at least after Labor Day.
4. Texas Rangers (67-46, 4-2) -- The best thing that has happened to the Rangers the past month has been the Angels' continuing inability to straighten up and fly right. A year ago, the Rangers had C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis atop the rotation. Between that duo and Alexi Ogando, they got 95 starts. This year, Wilson is gone, Lewis had 16 starts before his season-ending injury and Ogando has one. Yu Darvish has been good, but no Wilson, and with no Lewis or Ogando in the rotation, their chances to win the World Series seem to really hinge on Ryan Dempster, who has been known to do a great Harry Carey impersonation. Now, he needs to do a Nolan Ryan impersonation.
5. Chicago White Sox (62-51, 3-3) -- Everything seemed to be heading in the right direction, until first baseman Paul Konerko came down with what has been diagnosed as a mild concussion. Losing his bat would be a big blow, but despite his respectable numbers, there are signs he is not quite the force he once was. The good news is the pitching remains solid, and Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski are both having big seasons. The acquisition of third baseman Kevin Youkilis looms larger than ever.
6. Atlanta Braves (66-48, 4-2) -- The Braves have struggled at different times this year, but the shrewd signing and trade for right-handed pitcher Ben Sheets and left-handed pitcher Paul Maholm have settled down the inconsistencies of a staff that also has dealt with multiple setbacks from injuries. The past 36 games, Atlanta has gone 25-11. To date, eight starts by Sheets and Maholm have produced a 5-3 record and 54 innings pitched, with a 2.00 ERA. The offense has enough tough outs to support solid starting pitching.
7. Detroit Tigers (61-54, 3-4) -- The Tigers still have a formidable roster, and perhaps the best overall talent in the game. Something has been missing all year. The thought was that the addition of right-handed pitcher Annibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante would put them over the top. The return of outfielder Andy Dirks and the still-possible return of designated hitter Victor Martinez in mid-September may end up raising them up … that is, provided they are in the playoffs.
8. San Francisco Giants (63-52, 4-3) -- Hunter Pence has helped give a so-so offense a jolt and go 7-5 during 12 games. But the bigger story is that while the rotation is strong, even with Tim Lincecum stinking up the joint, the rotation of Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito may get the old Lincecum back pretty soon. Or, should we say they have had him back? During his past six starts, consisting of 39.2 innings pitched, Lincecum has posted a 2.72 ERA.
9. Tampa Bay Rays (62-52, 6-0) -- Let's see whether there is a connection: Evan Longoria comes back and Rays go on a roll. It sure seems that way. The timing on the schedule, playing a going-nowhere Blue Jays team and the outmanned Twins factored in, too. This week, they'll get the Pacific Northwest and the now-desperate Angels. Let's talk in a week, to see whether the Rays are more fact or fiction.
10. Baltimore Orioles (62-53, 5-2) -- It makes a good story that once-exiled executive Dan Duquette has beginner's luck during his first season back in MLB. The reality is his predecessor, Andy MacPhail, and field manager, Buck Showalter, had done a lot of heavy lifting. Duquette's genius has been in not settling for a 25 man-roster that couldn't possibly compete. Instead, he has had more like an amorphous 40-45 players at his disposal. Manny Machado, the Orioles' No. 1 pick in 2010 (third overall pick) is the latest and most talented. If he is truly ready -- and so far, so good -- all bets are off.
11. Pittsburgh Pirates (64-50, 3-4) -- The losing week at home versus the Diamondbacks and Padres drops the Pirates out of the top 10. They have been in some pretty rarified air, until going 6-7 their last 13 games. This club has gotten much more respectable offensively, even before it added Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez. But even with the addition of left-handed pitcher Wandy Rodriguez to the starting rotation, they are showing signs of fraying. It's a big week ahead, with first four at home against the Dodgers, then three in St. Louis in a make-or-break series for possibly both squads.
12. Los Angeles Dodgers (62-53, 3-3) -- Back-to-back 3-3 weeks lead into back-to-back road series in Pittsburgh (four) and then into red-hot Braves territory. It's time for additions to kick in. Manager Don Mattingly is a big name, but he needs to get her done during the next six weeks. Across town, Angels skipper Mike Scioscia could be a big-ticket free agent come this offseason.
13. St. Louis Cardinals (62-53, 3-4) -- The Cardinals are 13-6 during the past three weeks. Offensively, this club can do a lot of damage. Starting pitching has gotten huge years out of Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook. Adam Wainwright seems to be quite the ways back, but Jaime Garcia could be back shortly from the DL. In the meantime, rookie Joe Kelly (10 earned runs during the past 17 innings pitched) and Lance Lynn (16 earned runs during his last 22 innings pitched) have been part of the problem, not part of the solution.
14. Los Angeles Angels (60-55, 2-4) -- The Angels are 5-8 since they acquired Zack Greinke. Let's be real for a minute. They signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, then. got a monster year out of rookie Mike Trout. On top of that, Mark Trumbo may be best young power hitter in the American League … and the team got designated hitter Kendrys Morales back. The net result is the Angels are just five games better than a .500 record, and have not been able to gain on a struggling Rangers group, while barely keeping up with the Melvins (A's). Although Scioscia wouldn't have to wait long for a new gig in Boston or with Los Angeles' other team, owner Arte Moreno won't keep him if new general manager Jerry Dipoto pushes hard enough. Broadcaster and former Sox skipper Terry Francona could be the ticket, or maybe they'd take a run at former Yankees and Dodgers manager Joe Torre.
15. Boston Red Sox (57-59, 3-4) -- The Red Sox are a dismal 12-15 during the past four weeks. Jon Lester is showing signs he wants to be part of the solution. Clay Buchholz is showing his stuff, but Felix Doubrount and longtime ace Josh Beckett have really faded of late. The bullpen figures to really be a top asset in 2013. They get back Andrew Bailey, acquired from the A's for outfielder Josh Reddick. Although club president Larry Lucchino is firmly in manager Bobby Valentine's camp, and doesn't often admit mistakes, big macher John Henry says he is a Valentine fan too.
16. Oakland Athletics (61-53, 3-3) -- This club is trying its hardest to upgrade at shortstop offensively, but they won't give up an arm and a leg, which is why the Red Sox probably won't part with shortstop Mike Aviles. The A's are beginning to have an obscene number of starting pitchers. They're expecting back left-hander Brett Anderson by next week. He goes with Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, Travis Blackley, A.J. Griffin and Dallas Braden (nine total). Braden is on the DL, but should be a big factor in 2013. The bullpen may be coming apart, as Grant Balfour is now sharing saves with Ryan Cook. Lefty Jordan Norberto may end up as the best option anyway.
17. Arizona Diamondbacks (58-57, 3-4) -- The Diamondbacks picked the wrong time for a bad week. There's lots of talk that they'll throw in the towel for the wild-card hunt. But the Giants and Dodgers don't seem all that unbeatable in front of them for the division crown. Any of these three are just one good 7-10 game stretch away from seizing the West.
18. Philadelphia Phillies (52-62, 3-3) -- There are still some serious problems in Philadelphia. But Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, in just about a month and 239 total at bats, have combined for 15 home runs and 38 RBIs. Prorated out for an entire season, they still project out to 75 home runs and 190 RBIs. That solves a bunch of problems.
19. Kansas City Royals (49-65, 4-3) -- The Royals are a talented offensive club, which has been done in by awful starting-pitching decisions. Jeremy Guthrie, a personal whipping boy of mine, will probably pitch up to a new two-year deal, in which he won't make gigantic dollars, but he's doubtful to pitch up to the amount. One of the biggest decisions general manager Drayton Moore has to make is whether he wants his future to be tied to skipper Ned Yost. If his answer is no, goodbye Yost. Could former Red Sox manager Terry Francona take a bite out of this apple?
20. Seattle Mariners (53-63, 2-4) -- The M's have picked up the pace, behind some improved starting pitching, a revamped bullpen and the addition of some gamer-types in the everyday lineup. What general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge have to guard against is what I'll call the Royals syndrome -- misleading their own eyes with a strong uptick in wins and losses. If they do not accurately assess their own, it's the Seattle version of the Myth of Sisyphus.
21. Milwaukee Brewers (52-61, 4-2) -- A stop-and-start season, with many more stops than starts, is moving to its inevitable conclusion: the Twins are pretty far from a .500 record. Clearly, there are no star players like Prince Fielder or Zack Greinke to lose in free agency. So, now it is up to team general manager Doug Melvin to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to get good again.
22. San Diego Padres (51-65, 5-1) -- I said it before. I'll say it again. PETCO Park fans have been held hostage for a few years now to the acrimonious divorce of owner John Moores and his wife. The Padres are finishing strong, and the new owners will now invest back in club moving forward. The O'Malley group didn't agree to purchase a team for $800 million in this market if they were going to run it like a Mom and Pop store.
23. Minnesota Twins (49-65, 2-4) -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he wasn't going anywhere. If general manager Terry Ryan has his way (and we suspect he will), Gardy will be around for the turnaround party. Former one-time assistant GM Bill Smith, while GM was a beauty. Just as the Twins were about to move into the cash machine known as Target Field, he traded J.J. Hardy to the Orioles for right-handed pitchers James Hoey and Brent Jacobsen, took the savings on Hardy and signed Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka for a three-year, $9.25 million contract to replace Hardy. Nishioka has been a complete bust during his two years with Twins, most recently going 0-for-12 during four games after returning from Triple-A, with two errors. They still owe him $3 million next year and have a club option for 2014. Raise your hand if you think it's a safe assumption the club will not choose to exercise that option for 2014.
24. Cleveland Indians (53-62, 3-4) -- Too many stretches to try to reach for the brass ring on the merry-go-round. The club has admitted as much with the releases of Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe, Jose Lopez and Jeremy Accardo. Also, although center fielder Grady Sizemore was a super player during his brief prime, it's high time to cut ties. The problem is they had two huge trading chips a couple of years back: Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia. That's a lot to give up, for catcher Lou Marson, infielder Jason Donald, and pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp -- acquired as part of the Lee deal -- and first baseman Matt LaPorta, pitchers Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson -- for Sabathia. Only Bryson, who was at Single-A ball has progressed and is in a position to produce. The Tribe did also receive a player to be named later, which luckily for them, did turn out to be outfielder Michael Brantley.
25. Miami Marlins (52-63, 3-3) -- It's been a disappointing season on many levels for Jeffrey Loria's team. Will he and team president David Samson make manager Ozzie Guillen walk the plank? There's a good chance, but baseball folks paid outrageous dollars for relief pitcher Heath Bell, and then picked up Carlos Lee for prospects as a last-gasp acquisition in early July. There is enough blame to go around here, but Guillen asks for and brings the heat on himself. In his past, he used it as self-motivation. This time, he used it to implode.
26. New York Mets (55-60, 2-4) -- On national TV the other night, former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona was effusive in his praise for team mascot Mr. Met. That about sums it all up. The Mets made strides this season.
27. Toronto Blue Jays (54-60, 1-5) -- This team has had a lot of reasonable reasons for their collapse. To tell the truth, collapse is probably too strong a word to describe the 2012 Blue Jays. One question -- how is it that Rajai Davis gets no respect? He wasn't good enough to be a starter last year, so they went out and got Colby Rasmus. … This year, he couldn't beat out Eric Thames, now the newest backup outfielder in Seattle. Davis just keeps on doing his thing. … Guess I must be missing something, because isn't general manager Alex Anthopoulos some sort of genius?
28. Colorado Rockies (41-71, 3-3) -- The Rockies are probably the biggest disappointment of the year. Sure, injuries played a part, but general manager Dan O'Dowd looked to Jeremy Guthrie and 49-year-old Jamie Moyer to solidify an uncertain pitching staff. O'Dowd can do, and usually has done, a hell of a lot better than that.
29. Chicago Cubs (44-69, 1-6) -- They knew it would be bad, but did anyone think it would be this horrible? Getting stuck with Matt Garza wasn't a highlight. It was a lowlight. The geniuses overplayed their hand there.
30. Houston Astros (38-78, 2-5) -- New owner Jim Crane agreed to let his team move to the AL West to save a nice chunk of money on the purchase price. The motto could be, and should be, "Let's Get To .480 By 2015." That will not sell a lot of season tickets in 2013 and 2014, but at least it would be the truth. It's hard to imagine manager Brad Mills will survive this season, and that is the good news for him.
Posted Aug. 14, 2012